Weekly Web Watch 09/07/09 – 09/13/09

September 15, 2009 by

President Obama gave a speech outlining his new health-care reform proposal.  The highlight of the evening, at least for reporters, was Rep. Joe Louis shouting “You lie!” at the president after Obama stated that illegal aliens would not be covered.  Reaction was immediate and Louis apologized the next day.  Despite some claims, heckling the president is not unprecedented.  James Joyner defends Louis, saying that the Democrats’ plan will wind up covering illegal aliens, even if it is not explicitly supposed to do so.  Alex Massie is uninterested in health care, but the British writer is fascinated by a country that staged a revolution to overthrow a king, only to demand that everyone treat the president like a monarch.  Relatedly, Obama is offering to put tort reform into the health-care bill, though he would use a former trial lawyer lobbyist to do so.

President Obama imposed a thirty-five percent tariff on tire imports from China.  He did so under a section of the law that allows the President to unilaterally impose tariffs to prevent “surges” of foreign goods.  The Financial Times reports that China is already threatening to escalate the incident into a trade war by slapping tariffs on U.S. poultry and cars.

The men who attempted to blow airliners up with liquid explosives were convicted in the U.KChannel 4 reports that they were caught using NSA wiretaps.  Glenn Greenwald notes, however, that those wiretaps were authorized by the FISA.

Saturday saw the largest rally yet against President Obama.  The number of protesters is still unknown; most sources report 1-1.5 million people attended; outliers range from 2 million to 60,000.  One thing most observers agree on is that there was no unifying theme to the protesters aside from their dislike of Obama’s policies.

The U.S. invaded Somalia.  Again.

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Executive Action Report: 09/02/2009-09/08/2009

September 9, 2009 by

Wednesday, September 2

  • President Obama will address a joint session of Congress next Wednesday. The address will attempt to build momentum for the President’s health care reform proposals.
  • The State Department announced that former Senator George Mitchell will return to the Middle East next week. Senator Mitchell, the Administration’s special envoy for Mideast peace, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York over the weekend.
  • President Obama will chair a session of the United Nations Security Council focusing on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. The session will concentrate on broad goals rather than specific problems presented by countries like North Korea. This will be the first time a President of the United States has chaired a session of the Council.

Thursday, September 3

  • The Department of Health and Human Services announced the reappointment of John Howard as the coordinator for health issues related to the September 11 Attacks. Mr. Howard served in this capacity from 2006 to 2008, but the Bush Administration chose not to renew his position following disagreements over health policy.
  • The White House announced that President Obama intends to nominate Michael Punke to be U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization. Mr. Punke is a novelist and history professor who served as White House director for International Economic Affairs from 1993 to 1995.

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Weekly Web Watch 08/31/09 – 09/06/09

September 7, 2009 by

The CIA has asked the Department of Justice to start an investigation into the leak about the CIA’s assassination program.  Also, interestingly, the head of Xe (formerly Blackwater) has been placed on al-Qaeda’s “most wanted” list.

Stuart Holder argues that John Durham’s probe of CIA interrogations is political theater.  Holder argues that the investigation meets the U.S. requirements under the UN Convention Against Torture, but that actual prosecutions would be “political suicide.”  The Economist argues that the U.S. is always just one terror attack away from becoming Dick Cheney.

President Obama plans to give a speech to schoolchildren next week.  Some critics are urging their readers to keep their children home from school; some school districts have cancelled their planned broadcast of the speech.  Jim Lindgren says that the speech itself is not unprecedented and provides the text of George H.W. Bush’s 1991 speech to schoolchildren.

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington declared victory by settling their lawsuits with the White House.  The White House will give up visitors’ logs and agrees to continue to post the logs online.

The Obama administration refused to release further information about interrogation practices, saying that, as intelligence “sources and methods,” they do not have to be disclosed, even in court.

The State Department fired its private security in Kabul, managed by Armor Group, after photos and documents emerged detailing lewd and abusive behavior by the guards.  The Project on Government Oversight called it a “Lord of the Flies environment.”  Nathan Hodge (warning: NSFW pic at link) points out that the contractors that have found themselves in trouble are usually employed by the State Department, not the Pentagon.  If you want to see the offending pictures, you may do so here (nudity and lewd behavior depicted).

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Weekly Web Watch 08/24/09 – 08/30/09

August 31, 2009 by
Sen. Ted Kennedy

Sen. Ted Kennedy

Sen. Edward Kennedy succumbed to brain cancer.  Kennedy had been a senator for 46 years.  His death leaves the Democrats with 59 senators instead of the filibuster-proof 60 (though they have been effectively operating with 58 senators recently, Kennedy being absent while undergoing cancer treatment and Robert Byrd staying at home in West Virginia).  Kennedy had urged Massachusetts to change the state’s procedure for choosing a replacement senator; currently, the law requires a special election 145 to 160 days after the vacancy arises.  Doug Bandow says that the Democrats have no one to blame but themselves for that mess.

Attorney General Eric Holder appointed John Durham as a special prosecutor with the mandate to investigate detainee abuse allegedly committed by the CIA.  The New York Times has a look at the bureaucratic struggles that this probe is aggravating.  Notable amongst those are the frustration of CIA efforts to end DoJ inquiries and the general sense of irritation at White House Cousel Gregory Craig for his troubles with message management.  Quin Hillyer makes no secret of his support for CIA in this struggle and worries that CIA director Leon Panetta is already on his way out of the administration.  Rep. Peter King says that Holder has “declared war” on the CIA.  Contrast that with Glenn Greenwald, who says that Holder’s investigation is designed to find a few bad apples while leaving the policymakers safe.  David Cole agrees that the investigation should push further.

The Obama administration directed the Office of Legal Counsel to release a wide range of memoranda on various aspects of the War on Terror.  They have helpfully been made available on the DoJ website.  John Elwood has helpfully reviewed and categorized them at the Volokh Conspiracy.  Scott Horton has helpfully read one of the memos; you can learn how an “extraordinary rendition” is done, step-by-step, by reading his summary.

The Washington Post reported that waterboarding and other techniques were effective in getting alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to talk.  Thomas Joscelyn predicts that this is just the first of several documents and reports that will justify “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

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Executive Action Report: 08/19/2009-08/25/2009

August 26, 2009 by

Wednesday, August 19

Thursday, August 20

Friday, August 21

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Weekly Web Watch 08/17/09 – 08/23/09

August 23, 2009 by

Former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge reveals, in a forthcoming book, that he was pressured by the White House to raise the Threat Level Advisory (the color code) in order to influence the 2004 election.  Calling it an “intersection of politics, fear, credibility, and security,” Ridge explains that the episode led to his resignation.  Former Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend denied the allegation.  Ridge first made these allegations in 2005;   Ridge also claims that he never attended National Security Council meetings and that the White House thwarted his plan to reorganize FEMA prior to Katrina.  Caleb Howe takes a skeptical look at the claims and comes away wondering if this isn’t just effective marketing by Ridge’s publisher.

Scotland released Libyan agent Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the 1983 Lockerbie bombing.  Al-Megrahi suffers from terminal prostate cancer.  The U.S. lobbied against the release.  Part of his release involved his agreement to drop an appeal against his conviction.  That leads some to question whether this release is part of a deal between the U.K. and Libya to bury potentially thorny questions about who is actually responsible for the bombing (al-Megrahi, whatever his involvement, is not alleged to have been the mastermind).

The Wall Street Journal reports that Senate Democrats and the White House are considering splitting the health-care reform bill in two in order to use the reconciliation procedure to pass some elements.  Reaction to this idea, Philip Klein reports, seems mostly negative.  Meanwhile, President Obama published an op-ed in the New York Times to promote his health-care agenda.  David Rivkin and Lee Casey argue that the proposed health-care reform is, in any case, unconstitutionalJonathan Adler and Jack Balkin both disagree with that argument (and with each other).

Presidential elections were held in Afghanistan.  Afghani officials call the election a success, at least from a security point of view, with no major disruptions.  This story is disputed by some journalists; if they are correct, and people were staying away from the polling places, then it may prove Anne Applebaum correct that the Taliban’s goal in the elections was to cast doubt upon the legitimacy of the new Afghan president.  Bill Roggio, however, sees proof that the Taliban is too weak to mount a major offensive against an obvious target.

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Weekly Web Watch 08/10/09 – 08/16/09

August 16, 2009 by

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is threatening to write a “tell-all” book about the Bush administration, saying the “statute of limitations has expired” on his secrets.  Cheney apparently feels that Bush moved away from Cheney’s preferred policies during the second term.

Troops in Afghanistan

Anthony Cordesman claims that the U.S. may need to deploy 45,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.  Dave Schuler claims that this is a lowball figure, claiming that securing the country would likely require 325,000 to 820,000 troops.  Spencer Ackerman reports on the growing concern about goals in Afghanistan, including a more-contentious-than-expected press conference with envoy Richard Holbrooke.  Philip Giraldi says that Afghanistan is increasingly a sideshow and that the U.S. needs to concentrate on Pakistan, where a series of attacks on nuclear facilities show that the country is “unraveling.”  Eric Etheridge has much more from a variety of sources.

John Bellinger, the legal adviser to the State Department from 2005 to 2009, wrote an op-ed questioning the Obama administration’s strategy regarding the International Criminal Court.  So far, he says, the administration is unclear regarding its direction but the status quo is unlikely to change.

Protests against the proposed health-care reform are succeeding, according to a Gallup poll.  As Mickey Kaus points out, the poll is interesting but the real issue is how opinions on the reform change.

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Executive Action Report: 08/05/2009–08/11/2009

August 12, 2009 by

Wednesday, August 5

  • President Obama visited Indiana to highlight the progress of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Indiana has received $400 million in recovery fund grants.
  • Before leaving for Indiana, the President made a statement on the release of two journalists from North Korea. He thanked former President Clinton and former Vice President Gore for their efforts to secure the release of the journalists.
  • The Associated Press reports that the Department of Transportation has not provided data it has collected on the “Cash for Clunkers” program. The Associated Press requested the data last week in order to verify claims made by the administration about the program’s impact. The White House is asking Congress for an additional $2 billion in funding for the program.

Thursday, August 6

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Weekly Web Watch (8/2-8/9)

August 9, 2009 by

Propublica has a nifty tool that tracks how much stimulus funding is going into your county and a useful chart that documents critical information about the 31 Guantanamo detainees whose habeas corpus petitions have been ruled on by federal judges.

The Senate confirmed Sonia Sotomayor to replace outgoing Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court on a 68-31 vote.  The New York Times’ Adam Liptak previews the complex cases she will grapple with in the Court’s next term.  An analysis by the American Constitution Society suggests that President Barack Obama has the opportunity to fundamentally reshape the composition of appeals courts and district courts nationwide.  In other confirmation commentary, the Washington Post editorial board decries the Senate’s delays on confirmation votes for prominent administration nominees such as Dawn Johnson, Obama’s pick to head the Office of Legal Counsel.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Attorney General Eric Holder is on the cusp of appointing a criminal prosecutor to investigate abuses allegedly committed by the CIA during interrogation of terrorism suspects. The Atlantic Monthly’s Andrew Sullivan says the devil may be in the details, arguing that if the investigations are only for those acts that exceeded authorized protocol under the Bush Administration, the investigations may legitimize the Bush Administration’s rules permitting torture.

The Obama Administration petitioned the Supreme Court to rule on an appeal of a federal court ruling that demanded that the Administration release photos showing the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody overseas.  The litigation stems from a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU, which stresses on its blog that it is “critical that the American people know the full truth about the abuse that occurred in their name.”

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Executive Action Report: 07/29/09 – 08/04/09

August 7, 2009 by

Wednesday, July 29

  • The United States and China concluded two days high level discussions on a range of topics, although little concrete results were revealed. China stated it would be sending a high ranking general to visit the United States, and welcomed the U.S. to do the same, although China warned the United States against repeating arms sales to Taiwan.
  • President Obama signed legislation renewing sanctions against the military regime of Myanmar, following Congress’ authorization last week.
  • President Obama held a town hall meeting intended to pitch his health care proposals to consumers. Telling stories from his campaign days, Obama attempted to clarify his proposals for a government run, public option for health care.
  • After extensive negotiations, the Blue Dog Democrats, a group of Conservative Democrats, and the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives reached an agreement on health care legislation. The agreement will allow the bill to move forward, potentially to be voted on in September.
  • In a speech, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano outlined a new strategy to educate and incorporate the public as an asset in terrorism prevention.


Thursday, July 30


  • Despite efforts by the Obama administration to trim the Defense Department’s budget, the House of Representatives passed funding for various projects which the administration has threatened to veto, including an expensive new line of presidential helicopters.
  • President Obama and Vice President Biden met with Professor Gates and Sgt. James Crowley over a glass of beer, at the much anticipated “beer summit.” The meeting was intended to calm inflamed tensions over the arrest of Professor Gates and President Obama’s comments.
  • The House of Representatives passed far-reaching legislation to reform food safety laws, empowering the FDA with new authority to issue recalls and requiring more stringent and frequent inspections of factories.
  • The over-whelmingly successful “Cash-for-Clunkers” program was almost suspended as funds were running out after only a few days. The program was intended to continue until September, however the program’s estimated maximum of 250,000 cars sold had already been reached.
  • The United States, through U.N. ambassador Susan Rice, signed a United Nations treaty protecting the rights of disabled persons, which had previously been rejected by the Bush administration. The Obama administration will present the treaty to the Senate for ratification.

Friday, July 31

  • Two American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, which brought to an end the deadliest month for American forces in the eight-year war. Casualities have spiked due to the Obama administration’s push into the southern provinces, held by the Taliban.
  • The new national Gross Domestic Product figures showed less loss than anticipated, greatly improved over the previous quarter, which has increased speculation over the decline and end of the recession.
  • The Obama administration was reviewing the “Cash for Clunkers” program, in hopes of extending it with additional funds. The program proved to be wildly popular and ran out of funds in only a week of operation. The House of Representatives later approved an additional two billion dollars for the depleted program.
  • Saudi Arabia rejected calls from the United States to lessen sanctions on Israel, in exchange for a freeze on Israeli settlements in Palestine, as a step towards peace negotiations. The prime minister rejected the Obama administration’s “incremental” approach, and claimed that the core issues must be dealt with first.
  • The House of Representatives voted to impose limitations on pay and bonuses for Wall Street executives, following disclosure of rampant bonuses given with taxpayer money.

Saturday, August 1

  • The White House promised to honor “Cash-for-Clunkers” auto sales through the weekend, despite depleted funds and waiting for a Senate vote to extend more money to the program.
  • An expected half a million unemployed will exhaust their government benefits by the end of September, and 1.5 million by the year’s end, according to a new report. 

Sunday, August 2

  • On a tour of numerous nations in Africa, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is expected to announce increased civilian and military aid to the struggling nation of Somalia. Clinton will meet with the interim president of Somalia, which is intended to continue to show support for the beleagured government.
  • President Obama stated that the United States economy will take “many more months” before it clears the current recession. He warned that joblessness will continue to increase in the next weeks, and the current recession is worse than previously expected.
  • Showing the signs of the success of the “Cash for Clunkers” program, the Ford Motor Company posted its first monthly sales increase in two years.

Monday, August 3

  • President Obama and Congress engaged in discussions considering whether to enact economic sanctions against Iran if it fails to respond to the United States’ offer for negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
  • President Obama hailed the passing of the first GI bill since 9/11 as an ‘investment.’ The bill will provide public funding for four years of public college for eligible veterans, which would include a stipend and money for books. The new plan offers $78 billion in benefits over the next ten years, making it the most comprehensive since the original GI bill signed by President Roosevelt.
  • In an interview with Al Qaeda’s media operation, Osama Bin-Laden’s deputy claimed a conditional truce offer remained on the table to the United States, provided it meets Al Qaeda’s demands. The demands include the withdrawal of all troops from Muslim lands and support from certain regimes.
  • Following Saudi Arabia, the country of Jordan also rejected calls from the United States to ease tensions between the countries and Israel by lessening sanctions and beginning a dialogue. Jordan sharply criticized the eviction of two Palestinian families in the increasingly controversial Israeli settlements.
  • The Obama administration renewed its campaign promise, stating there would no tax increases on those making less than $250,000, despite increased speculation over the cost of the administration’s health care proposals.

Tuesday, August 4

  • The new secretary general of NATO, Anders Rasmussen, called for an increased European presence in the war in Afghanistan, citing that it would achieve an ‘increased balance in the alliance.’
  • The Obama administration launched a new internet initiative to combat misplaced rumors about their health care proposals, creating a three minute video which discusses some of claimed misconceptions. The initiative continues the recent expansion of the debate beyond Washington, into the mainstream media through television and internet advertising.
  • Former President Bill Clinton negotiated the release of two American journalists who had been convicted in North Korea, and were serving sentences in prison. The trip was private and not an official dialogue between the two nations, however, former President Clinton delivered a message from President Obama for Kim Jong Il.


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